The Triangle overflowed with goodwill and fun this weekend when the charity run and walk season kicked off in full force.
Thousands of people throughout the region were up and at 'em early Saturday morning. They ran, or walked very fast, to remember police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty, to help find a cure for multiple sclerosis, to help area ministries and to honor cancer survivors.
The day's activities started at 8:30 a.m. when about 800 runners and more than 100 volunteers gathered for a ceremony at Nash Square and on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh to honor eight police officers who have died in the line of duty since 1922.
Black and blue balloons, a musical disc jockey and McGruff, the trench-coat-wearing crime-fighting dog, turned the usually mundane section of Hargett Street into a festive place as participants from across the Triangle, state and country made ready for the second annual 5K Run For Our Heroes.
The event is sponsored by the nonprofit Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation and includes a 5K run and walk through downtown and a McGruff the Crime Dog 100-yard dash for youngsters.
The event honors Raleigh police officers Tom G. Crabtree, who died Sept. 1, 1922; Robert Earl Sparks, March 8, 1968; James Gale Lee, Dec. 5, 1968; James Wade Allen, Dec. 5, 1968; Delma Devon Adams, Feb. 3, 1980; Denise Holden, Aug. 4, 1995; Paul Andrew Hale, July 11, 1997; and Charles Radford Paul III, Sept. 10, 2002.
The police memorial foundation will use part of the money raised at Saturday's event to help build a fallen police officers' memorial. The remaining funds will go to the nonprofit, Raleigh Chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors, or COPS.
"COPS provides support services for family members, like counseling and camp for the kids," said Dennis Lane, an event organizer and retired major with the Raleigh Police Department.
Denise Holden's nephew, Zion Walker, 6, wasn't born when his aunt died, but he managed to win the 100-yard dash Saturday in her memory.
"She didn't get a chance to see my kids, but they are involved," Denise Holder's younger sister, Tabitha Walker, said about her three children competing in the Run for Heroes. "They speak of her like they actually know her."
Denise Holden's other sister agreed. "They will see someone and say, 'Look ma, she looks like Aunt Neicy,'" Rhonda Holden said.
The family members of the fallen officers were grateful that there loved ones are still remembered.
"It means a lot because I don't ever want him to be forgotten," said Trudy Paul, the mother of Charles Paul. "It makes you feel proud."
The MS fundraiser
On the other side of town, just off Interstate 40 West, 300 balloons floated overhead as 5,000 runners and walkers, along with 300 volunteers, gathered under colorful tents in front of the RBC Center for the Triangle Walk MS.
The event, sponsored by the Eastern North Carolina Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, resembled a giant tailgate party with grills sizzling, beer kegs busy and the swinging Mark Roberts Band playing everything from Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" to Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."
Long before the MS organizers released balloons to honor the 300 people with MS who participated in Saturday's event by walking or running one mile, three miles or five miles, the local organization was on target to reach its fundraising goal of $800,000, said Triangle MS spokeswoman Christy Lee Knutson.
For MS sufferers, the ability to walk, run and be held upside down by the legs Saturday while draining beer from a keg was particularly special.
Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and the body. Its symptoms range from tingling and numbness to blindness and paralysis.
Friends Chrissy Poggioli of Cary and Jennifer Froning of Fuquay-Varina said that the day enabled them to celebrate themselves and others like them who are living with a horrible disease.
"When I was diagnosed in my early 20s I was devastated, horrified and terrified," Poggioli said. "Ten years later I am married with a wonderful husband, two boys that melt my heart every single day and friends that light up my life."
Froning said the disease changed her perspective about living.
"This disease is so unpredictable," she said. "It has taught me to live each day as if it's my last."
Chrissy Poggioli's son Brandon, 7, also participated in the walk. "Take away MS so people can have a good life," he said.
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